Directed by Fina Torres, starring Penelope Cruz, Murilo Beníco, Harold Perrineau Jr, Mark Feuerstein.
A sensuous tale of ‘love, motion sickness and the art of cooking’, Woman On Top is essentially a vehicle for the admittedly rather gorgeous Penelope Cruz. In her first English-speaking role, Cruz plays talented Brazilian chef Isabella who is given this gift by the gods in compensation for the severe motion sickness with which she is afflicted. The first twenty minutes of the film seem almost like a fairytale as Isabella grows up, discovers her flair for cooking, meets and marries the handsome Toninho. But, in an inversion of the usual happy-ever-after, her troubles are only just beginning. Her motion sickness forces her to take control when driving - whether it’s a taxi or scooter - when dancing and, most of all, when making love, hence 'Woman on Top'.
Driven to prove his manliness elsewhere, one night Isabella catches Toninho in a compromising (missionary) position with another woman. Isabella flees to San Francisco, moves in with her transvestite friend Monica (Harold Perrineau Jr), and with the help of the sea goddess, Yemanja, attempts to exorcise her love for Toninho. Like the Little Mermaid in reverse, she manages to wish away her love but it turns out to be a mixed blessing. One of the side-effects is to make Isabella so alluring that she is followed to her job as a cookery teacher by hundreds of men, amongst them a television producer called Cliff (Mark Feuerstein) who decides that she should star in her own cookery programme. All is going well with her career and with Cliff, until Toninho, complete with Brazilian chorus of troubadours, realises that he cannot live without his wife and comes in search of her.
Visually arresting throughout, the camera positively drools over the radiant Penelope Cruz as she chops vegetables, loses herself in the evocative scent of a chilli and speaks of food and love in her sumptuously sexy accent. Woman on Top uses cookery as a metaphor for romance as in Alfonso Arau's Like Water for Chocolate but, unfortunately Fina Torres neither has the finesse, nor the plot, that Arau had. A sickly sweet sliver of magical realism crossed with food pornography, Woman On Top never really hits the mark. Still a feast for the senses, you do run the risk of feeling more than a little over-indulged on leaving the cinema.